After moving to Halifax three years ago, singer-songwriter Tom Terrell went about making friends in the city's modest bluegrass and roots scene. Meeting a group of like-minded musicians eager to release an album, he formed The Modern Grass in November 2010 in the hopes of recording a one-off Christmas album.
Holed up in Halifax's Fort Massey United Church, the fresh-faced band zipped through a set of holiday classics, recording their debut in less than two days. "By the time it was over we were like, 'Oh man, this is fun,'" Terrell says. "'We got to keep playing together.'"
Three holidays seasons later, The Modern Grass continue its annual recording tradition with Swingin' Around the Christmas Tree Vol. 3, which sees its official album release on December 9 at Fort Massey.
But The Modern Grass is more than just holiday standards. In November, the band won two Music Nova Scotia awards for bluegrass and roots recording of the year for its second LP, High on the Mountain. However, it was no easy task to get from weekly bluegrass jams to the recording studio.
Terrell looked to raise funds for the album through online funding site Pledge Music in February of this year, which ended up being "a complete failure" for the group. Without the infrastructure to create proper promotional pieces for the campaign, the project faltered before it had reached its goal.
"I don't know whether it's our style of music, or the stage our band is in, but that just didn't work well for us," he says. "Eventually, I just went to the bank."
After receiving a government grant for its album, the band was able to book two days at the CBC's Studio H. Helmed by Karl Falkenham, the professionally engineered and soundproofed studio was perfect for isolating the bands rich tones, recording the album on "some of the best microphones in town" from the studio's extensive analogue catalogue.
"For a band that really wants to capture a live feel and acoustic sounds, it was the best option," Terrell says.
But after a summer filled with folk festival spots, concert bookings and promotional work, Terrell was exhausted from the trials and tribulations of self-managing the band and ready to take a break and record their next holiday album.
"At Christmastime it becomes a complete cooperative effort," he says about the recording experience. "We all arrange, we all rehearse, we all book. It's just a nice group effort."
So following months of housekeeping for High on the Mountain, the band decided to keep their holiday tradition alive and return to Fort Massey to record their third Christmas album.
Originally planned as a bluegrass inspired holiday jam, in the week of rehearsal leading up to recording the album, it became clear that the band's arrangements were taking on more of a swing approach.
Recorded in two 14-hour sessions by friends and family of the band, Terrell says that although Vol. 3 doesn't have the studio precision of High on the Mountain, the raw approach to recording creates dynamic tones that couldn't be captured outside the church.
"When recording High on the Mountain, you don't want to hear the room, really," he says, but with this latest offering, "part of the experience is playing through the church, playing with the church."
The Modern Grass and Jennah Barry holiday special
Sunday, December 9, 7pm, $15/$20, Fort Massey United Church, 5303 Tobin Street
Tickets available at The Dalhousie Arts Centre, 6101 University Ave.,
by phone 494-3820, online artscentre.dal.ca
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